Natasha Ryan’s new life with convicted lover

 

Exclusive: She was the pale, timid teenager who became known as The Girl in the Cupboard after hiding indoors for almost five years.

He was her older boyfriend who went to jail for committing perjury while helping her hide as a serial killer was on trial for her murder.

But now, 21 years on from the missing person's investigation that gripped Australia and the world, Natasha Ryan and Scott Black could be considered one of the most remarkable love stories.

They have defied intense curiosity, criticism and court cases to become just another married suburban couple doing soccer games and dance classes with their four kids - including their eldest who is now around the same age as their mother when she went into hiding.

Natasha Ryan, now called Tash Black, with her husband Scott Black at home in central Queensland. Picture: Media Mode
Natasha Ryan, now called Tash Black, with her husband Scott Black at home in central Queensland. Picture: Media Mode


"I am so pleased for them that their relationship has endured," publicist and celebrity manager Max Markson, who negotiated Ryan's international publicity deals, says.

"It really is a testament to the strength of their love for each other and the support of their families."

Even former deputy Director of Public Prosecutions for Queensland, Paul Rutledge, who had to announce in court during serial killer Leonard Fraser's trial that Ryan was still alive, is happy to hear the couple are going strong.

"I wish them well," he says.

'The girl in the cupboard' Natasha Ryan, now called Tash Black in central Queensland. Picture: Media Mode
'The girl in the cupboard' Natasha Ryan, now called Tash Black in central Queensland. Picture: Media Mode


The extraordinary story began with Mr Black protecting his then teenage girlfriend - from what exactly Natasha has vowed to never disclose.

During her years in hiding, Ryan had no contact with the outside world and only rarely ventured outdoors at night to visit the ocean.

The cupboard where Natasha Ryan was found hiding by police. Picture: Supplied
The cupboard where Natasha Ryan was found hiding by police. Picture: Supplied

She missed out on schooling and taught herself sewing and German off the internet.

So committed were the couple to keeping Ryan hidden, she would crawl into cupboards or the roof cavity when people came to the house.

Natasha Ryan showing how she hid in a cupboard. Picture: News Corp
Natasha Ryan showing how she hid in a cupboard. Picture: News Corp

 

A page from the school diary kept by Natasha Ryan. Picture: Supplied
A page from the school diary kept by Natasha Ryan. Picture: Supplied


A special investigation by News Corp Australia found Ryan has reinvented herself as Tash Black after the couple married in 2008.

There has never been any allegation of any criminal wrongdoing by Ryan.

They now live a suburban family life with their four children close to where Ryan was once in hiding.

Natasha Ryan, now called Tash Black out and about in central Queensland. Picture: Media Mode
Natasha Ryan, now called Tash Black out and about in central Queensland. Picture: Media Mode

 

Scott Black in central Queensland. Picture: Media Mode
Scott Black in central Queensland. Picture: Media Mode


"They're just a normal family," a member of their kids' soccer club says.

It's hard to imagine more than 16 years ago this normal couple were at the centre of one of Australia's biggest - and most unusual - news stories.

Natasha Ryan, now called Tash Black, with her husband Scott Black and their children. Picture: Media Mode
Natasha Ryan, now called Tash Black, with her husband Scott Black and their children. Picture: Media Mode


Just days into serial killer "The Rockhampton Rapist" Leonard John Fraser's murder trial, a tip-off led police to discover Ryan hiding in the cupboard of then milkman Black's Rockhampton home.

Leonard John Fraser, Queensland’s first convicted serial killer, who was serving four indefinite life terms when he died of a heart attack at Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital on January 1, 2007.
Leonard John Fraser, Queensland’s first convicted serial killer, who was serving four indefinite life terms when he died of a heart attack at Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital on January 1, 2007.

Intense scrutiny has followed them since, yet Mr and Mrs Black remain within proximity to the community that once mourned Natasha's death.

Just a 15-minute drive from the weatherboard house where Natasha hid for some time between 1998-2003 in Australia's beef capital Rockhampton, past paddocks keeping horses, cows and goats, is the small town the Blacks call home.

On entering Gracemere, a sign highlights the town's attributes: "Vibrant community. Affordable living. Country values".

Natasha Ryan leaves Brisbane Supreme Court where the trial of Leonard Fraser took place in 2003. Picture: Philip Norrish.
Natasha Ryan leaves Brisbane Supreme Court where the trial of Leonard Fraser took place in 2003. Picture: Philip Norrish.


To get an idea of the meaning of these "country values", one only needs to mention "Natasha Ryan" or "The Girl in the Cupboard".

"Country values" are clear in the way community members appreciate the person behind the story.

Natasha Ryan has a family of her own with Scott Black in central Queensland. Picture: Media Mode
Natasha Ryan has a family of her own with Scott Black in central Queensland. Picture: Media Mode


To people in this community, Mrs Black is seen as a mother, a loving family member and a hard worker.

"She's a beautiful girl," says one Rockhampton business owner.

"She studied nursing. She's living a normal life, taking great care of her kids and working hard."

Over the years, there was commentary about the angst and turmoil Ryan put her parents through.

Natasha Ryan, now called Tash Black, has four children with Scott Black in central Queensland. Picture: Media Mode
Natasha Ryan, now called Tash Black, has four children with Scott Black in central Queensland. Picture: Media Mode


But with her mother Jenny Kerwin living just five minutes from the Blacks, their relationship has well and truly been rebuilt.

Kerwin, principal and property manager at Gracemere Property Solutions, wears her family commitment with pride in tattoos displaying the names of her children and grandchildren.

Jenny Ryan, the mother Natasha Ryan, during her interview on 60 Minutes in 2003. Picture: Supplied
Jenny Ryan, the mother Natasha Ryan, during her interview on 60 Minutes in 2003. Picture: Supplied


The Blacks cheer on their kids during Saturday soccer and were regulars at dance classes at Vikki Davis Dance School in Rockhampton.

But while the central Queensland community - which two decades ago despaired, then falsely mourned the young schoolgirl's death - have now embraced the couple, the story continues to resurface.

Natasha Ryan during her interview on TV program 60 Minutes in 2003. Picture: Supplied
Natasha Ryan during her interview on TV program 60 Minutes in 2003. Picture: Supplied


National news stories rehashing old specifics, podcasts discussing Fraser and his multiple victims - including Ryan, his one non-victim, YouTube vloggers from around the world retelling the entire story as though they were there, all keeping the titillating story of Natasha Ryan - The Girl in the Cupboard - alive.

Ryan was 14 years old when she ran away from home with her then 21-year-old boyfriend Black in 1998, initiating a series of extraordinary events.

Natasha Ryan, now called Tash Black, in Queensland. Picture: Media Mode
Natasha Ryan, now called Tash Black, in Queensland. Picture: Media Mode


*Extensive and exhaustive police and State Emergency Services searches.

*Police concluding Ryan had fallen victim to Rockhampton serial killer Fraser.

*Fraser confessing to murdering Ryan - although he'd never met her - along with a number of other women and young girls.

*Family, friends and community members holding a memorial service to mourn her loss.

*A tip-off leading police to discover just days into Fraser's murder trial.

Natasha Ryan, who was hiding for four-and-a half years celebrates her 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th birthdays on her 19th birthday at her Rockhampton home in 2003. Picture: Nathan Richter.
Natasha Ryan, who was hiding for four-and-a half years celebrates her 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th birthdays on her 19th birthday at her Rockhampton home in 2003. Picture: Nathan Richter.


*Ryan giving evidence at the trial about her own suspected murder. She refuted claims of a witness who said they had seen Ryan and Fraser together.

*Lucrative media deals to sell their story.

*Black serving 12 months in prison of a three-year sentence for committing perjury

*Intense public scrutiny.

Within days of Ryan's discovery, publicist Markson flew from Sydney to Rockhampton to represent her.

Natasha Ryan during her interview on TV program 60 Minutes in 2003. Picture: Supplied
Natasha Ryan during her interview on TV program 60 Minutes in 2003. Picture: Supplied


"When I first flew to Rockhampton Natasha had only been out of the house twice in five years," Markson says.

"The whole situation was enormously difficult for her and her mum and Scott. The media interest. The police questioning.

"I had made arrangements for 60 Minutes to have an exclusive interview with Natasha somewhere secret away from Rockhampton.

"Her mum took Natasha, her brother and myself in the car to the location about 45 minutes' drive away.

Natasha Ryan, who authorities thought had been murdered, leaves her mother's home in Rockhampton in 2003. Picture: Nathan Richter
Natasha Ryan, who authorities thought had been murdered, leaves her mother's home in Rockhampton in 2003. Picture: Nathan Richter


"I love singing so on the way we played cassettes and were all singing along.

"After a few songs Natasha said to me 'Max, this is the best fun I've had in five years'."

These days the noises of laughter and play of happy children emanates from her home.

It is a stark difference to the days she spent creeping around with the TV on low so the neighbours would not know she was there.

Natasha Ryan on her wedding day to Scott Black. Picture: Facebook
Natasha Ryan on her wedding day to Scott Black. Picture: Facebook


It's a testament to the resilience of this woman who as a young girl believed her only choice was to disappear.

Her choices may have been bad but they were also made at a time where, unbeknown to her, girls and women in the area were being targeted by a serial killer.

The lie exploded, so she continued to hide and Mr Black continued to help her.

Right or wrong, this chapter will forever be a part of their history but they appear to not let it define their future.

Scott Black pictured back in 2003, who previously hid his girlfriend, Natasha Ryan. Picture: David Kelly
Scott Black pictured back in 2003, who previously hid his girlfriend, Natasha Ryan. Picture: David Kelly


"Grasshopper."

With that one word, Robert Ryan realised his daughter was back from the dead.

In April 2003, it fell on then deputy Director of Public Prosecutions for Queensland, Paul Rutledge, to announce that Natasha Ryan was still alive.

It was 11 days into the trial of serial killer Leonard John Fraser for the murders of Julie Dawn Turner, 39, Beverley Doreen Leggo, 37, and Natasha Anne Ryan, 14.

Former Director of the DPP for Queensland, Paul Rutledge. Picture: News Corp
Former Director of the DPP for Queensland, Paul Rutledge. Picture: News Corp

Mr Rutledge was informed by police that Ryan had not been murdered by Fraser and was in fact alive and hiding with her boyfriend nearby.

He then had to break the news to Ryan's father.

Natasha Ryan (at age 18), who went missing for nearly five years, before she appeared in court. Picture: Nathan Richter.
Natasha Ryan (at age 18), who went missing for nearly five years, before she appeared in court. Picture: Nathan Richter.

 

Rockhampton resident Tash Black while pregnant, also known as Natasha Ryan. Picture: Facebook
Rockhampton resident Tash Black while pregnant, also known as Natasha Ryan. Picture: Facebook


"I sat down with the father outside the court and told him," Mr Rutledge told News Corp Australia.

"Obviously this was a big shock to him."

In order to determine Natasha's identity, Mr Rutledge needed her father to ask her a question only she knew the answer to.

"It was a very emotional situation," Mr Rutledge said.

"You could see from his reaction that he thought it was her.

"He asked, 'do you remember the name I used to call you as a little girl?' and there was a break and she obviously answered because the father became naturally emotional.

"She replied, 'grasshopper'.

Robert Ryan when he spoke to the media after being reunited with her. Picture: Rob McColl.
Robert Ryan when he spoke to the media after being reunited with her. Picture: Rob McColl.


"I then knew we had the right girl and she was still alive."

Mr Rutledge, who now practices as a private barrister in Maryborough, north of Brisbane, then had to deliver the dramatic news to an unsuspecting judge and courtroom.

The room responded with "audible shock", he said.

The defence called Ryan as a witness in Fraser's trial as he had been recorded admitting to killing the teenage girl.

"I was then placed in the unique position as being the only prosecutor who has ever been and probably ever will … cross examine a victim in a murder trial," Mr Rutledge said.



HOT PROPERTY: ‘Old Tannum’ beach shack for sale

premium_icon HOT PROPERTY: ‘Old Tannum’ beach shack for sale

One of the original beach shacks from Tannum Sands has hit the market and the...

Alleged Calliope double murder case delayed in court

premium_icon Alleged Calliope double murder case delayed in court

THE alleged Calliope double axe murder case won’t be before a court for another six...

FIRE IN THE DEEP: Frightening stories from Deepwater

premium_icon FIRE IN THE DEEP: Frightening stories from Deepwater

Firefighters relive bushfire emergency in new video.